The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced that it will recognize additional numbering systems for the identification of animals. The systems will apply to interstate commerce and cooperative disease control and eradication programs for animals.

Additionally, APHIS will authorize the use of a national numbering system to identify premises where animals are managed or held. These new numbering systems will be a key element in the national animal identification system (NAIS), which USDA is implementing on a voluntary basis.

Currently, many producers use separate identification numbers or methods for official animal health programs, interstate commerce purposes and industry programs such as breed registries. Various industry organizations have recommended, and USDA supports, moving towards a standardized numbering system that would allow one number to be used for all of these purposes.

An animal or group of animals would be identified with the same official number under multiple programs, instead of being identified with a different number under each program. The data associated with each program could still be maintained separately, however.

Accordingly, APHIS is amending the regulations to recognize for official use the 15-character animal identification number, 13-character group/lot identification number and 7-character premises identification number.

The new official animal numbering system will allow producers to transition into the use of a "one number — one animal" system if they wish to do so.

This interim rule does not change the requirements defining which animals must be officially identified, nor does it require that producers use the new numbering systems. The rule merely insures that the new numbering systems are recognized as official, allowing those who want to use such systems to do so.

APHIS also is amending the regulations to prohibit the removal of official identification devices, including those recognized as official on livestock imported from other countries.

This interim rule was published in the Nov. 8 Federal Register and became effective upon publication. APHIS documents published in the Federal Register and related information, including the names of organizations and individuals who have commented on APHIS dockets, are available on the Internet at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppd/rad/webrepor.html.

Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Jan. 7, 2005. Comments can be submitted by postal mail, commercial delivery or by e-mail.

Send an original and three copies of postal mail or commercial delivery comments to Docket No. 04-052-1, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3C71, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238 or e-mail comments to regulations@aphis.usda.gov.

E-mail comments must be contained in the body of the message; do not send attached files.

Please include your name and address in the message and type "Docket No. 04-052-1" on the subject line.

To submit comments online, go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for locating this docket and submitting comments.

Comments can be reviewed at USDA, Room 1141, South Building, 14th St. and Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C., between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. To facilitate entry into the comment reading room, please call (202) 690-2817.